Saturday, April 30, 2011

Antwerp-Brussels-Brugge

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A while ago my friend Dave mentioned what a fashion forward city Antwerp was. I always thought that visiting it was out of the question for some reason. So when I was planning a trip to Belgium, I was over-the-top excited to find out that Antwerp was not only in Belgium, but only a few hours away from Bonn by train. Known as a fashion capital of Europe, the city sets itself apart from the polish and class of Paris with it's quirky and unique style. Antwerp is home to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts where designers such as the Antwerp six got their education from. The MOMU or Modemuseum which is a fashion museum that houses many collections is also located there. The exhibit on display when I was there showcased knitwear.

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Swimsuits from the 1920's. Wouldn't it be amazing if swimsuits still looked like this? I'm tired of all those Hawaiian floral print tankinis.

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I believe this is a Azzedine Alaia piece. The hood and the asymmetrical zippers give the knit dress a little edge.

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Vivienne Westwood. I'm more used to her elaborate fabric folded and bunched gowns, but you can tell this piece has the designer's taste for drama in the full length knit gloves.

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With patterns like these, it can be none other than Missoni. I believe this is supposed to be from one of their more recent winter collections, but it reminds me of shift dresses from the 1960's.

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And Chanel. Can't get away from that perfectly ladylike and versatile women's suit, even in knit form. I'm in love with the sweet shape of the dress.

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Alexander McQueen! The absolute highlight of the exhibit for me. There was also a video of one of his shows playing on a screen nearby this display. Leave to him to take knitwear and make it into some crazy headgear.

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It kills me that I can't remember the designer for this piece. I'm thinking Comme de Garcons? Either way, its a very striking piece in person. 

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Dries Van Noten of course. One of the Antwerp six. This designer always knows how to combine colors, textures, and patterns like no body else.

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A close up of Rodarte I believe. Just can't get away from their deconstructed sort of beauty.

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In front of the Dries Van Noten flagship store! And in the designer's own hometown too. Sure everything in there was way beyond my price range and I was scared to touch anything. But it was still worth the experience.

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Shoes. Beautiful Dries Van Noten shoes. I'm in love with the different colors he used, the texture of the sequins, and the patterns made by the shapes. 

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Also stopped by the Ann Demeulemeester flagship store. Also one of the Antwerp six, she's known as Antwerp's princess of fashion. The store was closed, but a few of her dark, moody, asymmetrical pieces could be seen from the window.

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Had to stop and get Belgian waffles sometime of course. Although they were super touristy waffles, covered in white chocolate and strawberries, they were so worth the price. 

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The Belgian Comic Museum in Brussels was interesting. Although I didn't recognize any of the comics because they were Belgian, it was still fun to look through them.

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Whats a trip to Belgium without buying chocolate? Be proud of me though, I only bought about 5 euros worth of chocolate. I've been cutting back and since being back in America where there is no good chocolate, I've pretty much cut chocolate out completely. Shocking, I know.

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Last but not least was Brugge. How many people can say that they saw a vial of Jesus' blood on Easter Sunday? Honestly it was rather gross looking and the person sanitizing the vial after each person prayed with it was a little creepy. 

None the less. I lit another candle in this church. I'd say my over all candle lit count was about 14 over my entire time abroad. Lets hope the cause that I lit them all for is heard. 

Rach:]

34 Hours In Paris

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Last week we had a day off from school, so Amy and I decided to take a chance and venture to Paris for our short break. Although it was a blink-and-you-missed-it trip (we left after class on Tuesday, had Wednesday there, and then came back in time for class on Thursday), it was completely worth it. For thirty four hours, we literally sprinted through Paris. Its impossible to see everything Paris has to offer in a day and a half, but that didn't stop us two girls from trying. I have to say, this was the most unbelievable and amazing trip I've taken yet.

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Our first stop immediately after checking into our hostel was the Eiffel Tower. After some difficulty understanding the French tram system (seriously, mind telling people that a stop is completely gone before they get on a tram?), we finally reached the tower. It never looked so magnificent as it did then, especially after an hour of hopping on and off of over 10 trams trying to get there. Along with being the symbol of all things French and a major landmark, it has incredible detailed ironwork and the view from the top was breathtaking.

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After even more difficulty using the trams to get back to hostel that night, we woke up the next morning and headed to the Louvre. It was incredibly packed, but Amy and I got to get in for free because we are students in the EU. The museum is built like a maze and it was extremely hard to navigate through. Seeing as we only had 34 hours in Paris, we couldn't spend the days upon days it would take to really soak in all of the amazing artwork in the Louvre. Our strategy was to basically run around like mad-women and come to skidding halt whenever we recognized a work from one of our Art history courses.

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Other than seeing the Eiffel Tower, there was one thing I absolutely had to do in Paris. And that was visiting one of Laduree's pastry shops and trying on of their famous delicacies, French macarons. Not to be confused with the American coconut hub-cap version of the pastry, French macarons are an iconic symbol of Paris.

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Amy and I split a set of 6 macarons and they were absolutely delicious. They came in this beautiful box with all 6 cookies perfectly lined inside (Amy and I ate 2 of them before I got the chance to photograph them, opps...). Amy got a lemon, a chocolate passion fruit, and a strawberry macaron. I chose a pistachio, a caramel, and a rose macaron. Although I didn't quite feel like Blair Waldorf eating them, they were quite an indulgence.

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Another situation that proved to me that I am a broke college student, I was ecstatic to get into the Manet exhibit at the Musee d'Orsey for free! They had many of Manet's well known works including Olympia and this one, Luncheon of the Grass. Not only was I excited to see this work because I had written a paper this specific piece in my Art History class years ago, but it is also the painting where Blair meets Prince Louis in front of on Gossip Girl. Granted I am clearly not a glamourous Upper-east-sider relaxing in Paris on her summer vacation. My French is quite terrible and I didn't meet my own prince-posing-as-a-commoner, but I enjoyed the painting none the less.

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When I first planned going to Paris, I was actually more excited to see this than the Eiffel Tower. I have a painting of the Arc de Triomphe in my bathroom that I found at Goodwill. It was quite an experience to see it in person. There is a constant circle of traffic flowing around it (there is an underground tunnel to get to the center) so I imagine it would make an amazing night-time, long exposure photo.

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Speaking of photos I want to take. I saw a poster once of the Eiffel Tower behind a mary-go-round and knew that I wanted to recreate that shot on my own. There is something about the serious-ness of a landmark like the Eiffel Tower in combination with the frivolity and light-heartedness of a mary-go-round. I don't think my photo came out as well composed as the professional poster, but I still plan to print it large and make it my own poster back home.

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All in all, it was a super short trip, but it was completely worth it. Check out me and the amazing Amy next to the tower on our last day. We only had 34 hours in Paris, but we made it work! I hope to return some day and truly savor Paris as a much slower pace, but I am over-the-top glad I got to catch a glimpse of it now.

Rach:]

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ich bin ein Berliner

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A little over a week ago we spent three days in Berlin, the capital of Germany, on a class trip. We took a 5 hour train to Berlin's hauptbahnhof, which is apparently the biggest transportation station in Europe. On our first day there we took a bike tour of the city and saw the Brandenburg Gate, which is a main symbol of Germany.

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We got to tour the Chancellory, or the German version of the Whitehouse. I think its pretty cool that the Chancellor in office now is the first female to hold that honor. The Chancellory is nicknamed the 'washing machine' because part of it looks like a white cube with a large circular window. The design of the building is very modern and mixes sharp cubic edges with curving flowing lines.

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Our trip had a very somber day when we visited a concentration camp in Oranienburg called the Sachsenhausen. This camp was one of the first built in Germany. Its first purpose was to hold criminals and those who spoke out against the government, but it was soon used to imprison communists, homosexuals, and jews. Basically anyone that the government saw as undesirable.

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Sachsenhausen is not nearly as horrific as Auschwitz, but the methods the Nazis used to kill Jews were first experimented and practiced here. These are the remains of the 'medical' rooms that the S.S. Officers would use to trick the prisoners into getting 'check ups'. They would think they were going to take a shower, only to be gassed to death. Or they would line up against a wall with a ruler thinking they were going to be measured, only to be shot in the neck by an officer on the other side through a hole in the wall.

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This camp is also one of the first places the Nazis began to cremate the bodies to get rid of the evidence of what they were doing. They burned the bodies in these ovens and then buried their ashes outside nearby. It was a sad experience to stand where so many people died.

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Medical experiments on prisoners also began here. Doctors would inject deceases into healthy victims and to observe the results. Many of these people died from the wounds inflicted upon them.

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On a lighter note, we also got to see the East Side Gallery, which is an exhibition of street art on the remains of the Berlin Wall. Our tour guide, Gunther, was actually the artist of the work behind him. He was extremely knowledgeable about all of the artists on the wall.

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We visited the Jewish Museum, which turned out to be not what I expected. I thought it would be very traditional and full of historic exhibitions. Instead our tour mainly revolved around 3 modern art installations that each communicated the pain Jews felt during the Holocaust. One of them was the Fallen Leaves installation, which was a sea of iron faces representing the victims of genocide. The piece was meant to be walked on, but it made those who experienced it feel uneasy. The metal clanked loudly as you walked by and the sounds echoed through the hall.

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I liked the area about Jewish culture a lot. Its easy to just label Jews as victims and not learn more about them as a people. Seeing exhibits about their customs brought life to the museum. I really liked this intricate wedding belt on display.

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A small group of us went to the Computer Game history museum during our free time. I'm not much of a gamer, but I found it pretty interesting. The boys played this game called the Painstation, which literally electrically shocked, burned, and whipped the hands of the players. Its basically pong for masochists.

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After that we went and did the complete opposite thing and went shopping at KaDeWe which apparently is the largest department store in Europe. I would believe it, it was huge and full of extremely expensive things I could never afford. I did however indulge in a lot of perfume sampling. My bottle of Escada's Sunset Heat broke in Italy and I'm contemplating replacing it with Escada's Taj Sunset or Marc Jacob's Daisy Eau So Fresh.

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The perfume section was absolutely gorgeous. I loved the diamonds that ascended up to the ceiling like stars floating into the night sky. We almost had to make a run for it though, when Stephanie knocked a bottle of Burberry Brit from the shelf and broke it. Honestly, we probably would have bolted if we hadn't been paralyzed in fear. Thankfully the sales lady didn't seem to be upset.

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On the top floor of the department store was a massive bear whose only purpose clearly was to have pictures taken with. I believe bears are a symbol of Berlin from the region's crest which features a bear. 

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Apparently Germany is known for their cross-eyed possums? I never heard of them before I saw this stuffed animal and thought it was a mistake until I realized all of them on the shelf were cross-eyed. I guess if UT can have albino squirrels, Germany can have these guys.

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You know I have to mention food before I end a post. One of the nights in Berlin, the school provided us with a dinner at this Italian pizza restaurant. They had over 20 types of pizzas with the strangest combination of toppings. I had to get the basil pizza when I saw it on the menu, I love anything with basil in it. Jill and Marissa ordered this Tiramisu that was nothing short of amazing. I had a bite of it and decided that I must invent a sort of Tiramisu spread to eat with toast. But considering my addiction to Nutella already, I probably shouldn't temp myself by making such a thing.

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Again with the bears. In Berlin they really are everywhere. At first I thought this was maple syrup and wanted to purchase it, but then I realized we were in the liquor section and reconsidered seeing as it probably was not meant for waffles. Its still a super cute bottle though.

Overall my impression of Berlin is that it is soaked in an incredibly important past, but at the same time is speeding towards a new modern future. Shopping centers and urban centers stand next to historic masterpieces and graffiti covered rubble.

Rach:]